The United School Employees of Pasco is raising concerns about the prospect of offering brick-and-mortar instruction when school begins, given current COVID-19 conditions.
A post on the union’s Facebook page says that USEP “will seek injunction to prevent schools from opening for safety & health reasons. We do this to allow common sense to prevail and provide a virtual opening to this unprecedented school year.”
Don Peace, the union’s president had urged the Pasco County School Board and school district leaders at the board’s July 28 meeting for an online-only opening of school when classes begin on Aug. 24.
“In light of the fact that Pasco’s COVID-19 positivity rate is above 10% and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is recommending a 14-day downward trend, along with a positivity rate of 5% or less, USEP finds it troubling that we would contemplate a brick-and-mortar opening,” Peace said, during the board’s telephonic meeting.
“We’re contacting legislators and other state officials to see what could be done to allow for an all-virtual reopening,” Peace said.
“Our positivity trend is going up, not down. We closed schools at Spring Break, when things were not as bad as they are now.
“For the Department of Education to order schools to open, in the current situation, is nothing short of reckless,” Peace said.
“Sixty-seven districts in this state have elected school boards whose primary duty is to ensure public education is carried on in a safe and productive manner. Returning to brick-and-mortar right now, certainly is not safe. And, the interruptions caused when (COVID-19) test rates spike, causing virtual instruction, will most certainly not be productive for our students,” Peace said.
He told board members that the union is exploring all of its options.
“All we are asking for is some common sense and time for this to happen,” Peace said.
He wasn’t the only one raising questions about the district’s reopening plan during the board meeting.
Patrick Connolly, of Zephyrhills, said “teachers still don’t know if they’re going to be awarded MSOL (MySchool Online)-only positions, and therefore feel safe, or if we’re going to be required to be back in, and be unsafe.
“Because of that, a lot of people don’t know if they’re going to come back next year,” he said.
Connolly also posed this question to the board and district staff: “What will happen in the next couple of weeks, when teachers are going to find out that their request for MySchool Online-only appointments are not being honored and people are being forced back into the classroom against their wishes, and decide at that point to take leave, resign or retire, leaving the school system with an insurmountable gap in teacher allocations that cannot be filled with even the remotest bit of experience at this time of year.”
What about sick teachers?
Connolly also noted that symptoms described on the self-screening document that teachers are supposed to use are symptoms that they commonly experience.
“If I follow the guidelines, what is the school going to do in terms of subs, when half of the staff is out after the first week for 10 days? Are we ready for that?” he asked.
Another caller asked the school district to collect data through an anonymous survey to find out how many staff members are considering retirement, leaves of absence or resigning — and then to make those survey results public.
The caller said the district needs to do a better job in its communications.
Many parents are assuming that there will be smaller class sizes, if there are fewer students on campus, she said. But, the district has said that class sizes won’t be reduced, she said.
Also, many parents are under the impression that social distancing will be done to the extent recommended by the CDC, which is not possible without reducing class sizes, the caller added.
School board member Megan Harding said she knows that district staff is working hard, but said communications must improve.
She said she’s still receiving multiple emails daily with questions she had previously raised to district staff.
“Our schools are being inundated with questions that they don’t have answers to yet. And, I know that we don’t have the answers to everything yet, but I want to ask that we get those questions answered, and push out that information to our families and staff as soon as possible because school is starting around the corner, so I think it’s really important that we get that information out,” Harding said.
Vanessa Hilton, the districts’ chief academic officer, provided some details about what the school day will look like for students in the coming year.
MySchool Online teachers will do live lessons, have collaborative discussions, provide small group sessions and allow independent practice for students, she said.
“Of course, we won’t have students behind a computer for six hours a day, but engaging in those various structures, as well as breaks. Recess. Their electives. And, all of the things you might expect,” Hilton said.
“The curriculum for MySchool Online and traditional school will be the same.
“Many of those structures that I mentioned for MySchool Online will also be part of the traditional model. You’ll see live lessons, collaborative discussions, small group sessions and independent practice,” she said.
“There also will be new things in our traditional model. Some things you’ll notice, like creating cohorts that stay together in elementary,” she added.
Some things students may not notice, such as the fact that the district won’t be sharing recess equipment between cohorts in elementary. They’re also unlikely to notice the tasks handled by adults, such as the monitoring and disinfecting of equipment and supplies, the district leader said.
At the secondary level, there will be some obvious changes, such as managed traffic patterns, no large congregations of students and reduced sizes of groups, she continued.
There also will disinfecting of desks, materials, computers — between student uses, she added.
“Some of those things won’t be noticed by students because students won’t be responsible for them, but some of them, of course, will be noticeable,” Hilton said.
School Board Chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin said, “Each person on this board cares about our employees, their families, our students and our community.
“I know that our teachers, staff and families are concerned about the risks of contracting COVID. We’re doing everything we can, within the parameters we’re given, to mitigate the risk.
“I spoke with Mark Fox, head of maintenance, about different types of disinfectant wipes, products, filters, barriers, water fountains, bathrooms and so on.
“He and his staff have investigated all possible ways to make our schools as safe as they can be,” Beaudoin said.
Published August 05, 2020